Hundreds flock to annual ‘Relay’

HANAPEPE — A banana split with or without brownies was just one of the offerings at the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life Saturday night.

“They are one of our new groups this year,” said Mary Williamson, director of the American Cancer Society, Kaua‘i branch, as she inspected some sun catcher bracelets by the light of a battery-powered fluorescent lantern.

Williamson said the group, the Kaua‘i High School Class of 2007, formed just about two weeks before the ninth annual Relay for Life. The event took place Saturday afternoon through early Sunday morning at Hanapepe Stadium.

“The banana is our class mascot,” said Natasha Pigao, one of the Class of 2007 students manning the booth. “With the help of our sponsors, Meadow Gold Dairies and the Neibre ‘Ohana Farms, we got some apple bananas and decided we would offer banana splits.”

That decision apparently paid off for the students as Mary Pigao, Natasha’s mom, said within a five-hour span, the group had raised more than $1,200 with their sundaes that cost just $2 for plain and $3 if you wanted a brownie.

Additionally, Mary’s mother had offered up some hand-sewn pillow and quilts which were available for walkers to win with a donation.

Williamson said a group of Verizon Wireless employees was new this year, signing up just this past week. Another of the new groups was the Kapa‘a High School Key Club, camped out adjacent to the Kaua‘i High School Key Club — which was proud to point out their Platinum level of achievement.

“We just made it tonight,” said Charlene Navarro, the Kaua‘i Key Club adviser. “The students started in October with a series of fund-raisers including car washes.”

Marisa Valenciano, the president of the Raider Key Club, said in addition to their outside fund-raising, the club members raised funds through letters and envelope pledges. Additionally, the students sold luminaria, honor cards and glow sticks at the Relay to reach their $10,000 contribution.

“You see these glow sticks?” Williamson asked. “They cost $25 each. I got them from the Key Club students.”

Williamson said she and her husband contribute to the ACS each year, but rather than write just one check, do some shopping at the Relay, helping not only the ACS, but the participating teams and families at the Relay.

She explained that at the Hawaiian Airlines booth where the sun catcher bracelets were being offered, you had a choice of getting the bracelets alone, or with a maintenance plan.

“They were $8 each, and I gave the girl a $10 bill,” Williamson said. “When they asked about the change, I just said, ‘It’s for the maintenance plan.’”

As the field of walkers made their way around the giant circle of luminaria lining the stadium field, there appeared to be a number of revelers celebrating birthdays at the overnight event designed to celebrate survivorship from cancer while raising money for cancer research and programs for the American Cancer Society.

“When the clock strikes midnight, it’s going to be Mona Dotario’s birthday,” said Leah Scovel, Dotario’s sister, who was walking with Kathy Koerte. “But we’re not here to celebrate Mona’s birthday. We’re walking for Kathy who is a survivor.”

Dotario was not the only one celebrating a birthday. Over in the Kaua‘i All-Girl Rodeo Association tent, Tammy Pu‘u, the KAGRA president, said it was one of their club members’ birthdays as well.

To celebrate, the birthday person got to snooze in one of the tents set up behind the roping contest hosted there. Williamson pointed out that KAGRA was also one of the first-time participants to the Relay.

Kevin Matsunaga, a teacher from Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, was also trying to get out before it got too late.

“Last week at the county’s age group track meet, it was my daughter’s birthday,” Matsunaga said. “Tonight, it’s my wife’s birthday, so I have to go home.”

Matsunaga was one of the early arrivals to help set up the CKMS tent that dedicated its offerings to the memory of Pohaku Nishimitsu who passed away in December, 2006.

One of the facets of the Relay For Life is the hope that those lost to cancer will never be forgotten, and those who face cancer will be supported.

Matsunaga was earlier helping coach youngsters at the Kaua‘i Police Activities League basketball program at the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center and rather than return home, went directly to Hanapepe to help set up.

Carie Inouye and Kori Masuda, two of the Kaua‘i High School girls basketball team members, showed up to spend time with a former teammate, Ho‘onani Dennis and Cheri Kua, members of the Waimea High School girls basketball team who will be facing Kapa‘a for the KIF championship Tuesday night.

“My body is still sore,” Inouye, who suffered a defeat at the hands of Kapa‘a earlier in the night, said. “But we wanted to come to this and be with friends.”

The ACS Relay For Life began in the mid-1980s when Dr. Gordy Klatt, a Tacoma surgeon, wanted to enhance the income of his local American Cancer Society office, states a Relay for Life Web site.

He decided to personally raise money to help fight cancer by doing something he enjoyed — running marathons.

In May 1985, Klatt spent 24 hours circling the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound for over 83 miles. Throughout the night, friends paid $25 to run, or walk 30 minutes with him. That raised $27,000 as almost 300 of Klatt’s friends, family and patients turned out to watch his feat.

•Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com.

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